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Studies in Modern Poetry: Arthur Rimbaud, Page 5
by Federico Olivero (1921).

They are built up of details seemingly irrelevant and incoherent, which, at a closer scrutiny, appear indispensable, each of them contributing to the required effect. The poet works the crowd of images sprung from his luxuriant fantasy into an organic whole, thus securing a single 'tone' in his composition.

He is continually confronting and solving problems of expression; he relies on the power of suggestion contained in language—is not the term 'glamour' derived from 'grammer'?—in order to describe sensations, hard to fix in word-painting, hallucinations, the emotions of a man awaking from a trance. 'I settled the form and motion of each consonant, and I flattered myself that it was possible to me to find a poetical language accessible to all the senses' [ Œuvres, pp. 293, 241, 258. ]. —'I accustomed myself to the simple hallucination; I saw very distinctly, and truly, a mosque in the place of a factory, a hall in the depths of a lake, monsters, mysteries;—a vaudeville placard raised terrors before my eyes'. —'I have tried to invent new flowers, new stars'.

Emphasis is laid upon fictitious creatures; we have a mirage instead of substantial reality, the poet choosing without hesitation illusions rather than truth. The work of fancy is carried to an excess and the boldness of metaphors knows no limit; all kinds of queer shapes are wrought into the woof. 'Is it a mock-show or serious art? is the poet in earnest or merely jesting?' asks the bewildered reader. He is like a painter who, copying a landscape, would continually shift his point of view. Much is left to the reader, whose mind is required to supply the missing links, to fill up the gaps between images and ideas. We are not only shocked by this want of connection, but also by false, strident notes, by wrong proportion and perspective, and bad taste. To think that, in some at least of his early poems, his object is to startle the reader, is not wholly to misconceive his aim. Several of these pieces are spoilt by trivial thoughts and indecent phrases.

Aloysius Bertrand laid the foundation of this form of poetry in his Gaspard de la Nuit; taking the hint from this book Baudelaire brought it to a complete development. Unlike Bertrand's pieces, where everything is sharply defined, Baudelaire's poems in prose relie on suggestion for their effect. Then Mallarmé, refining upon Baudelaire's style, gave it a subtler charm. J. K. Huysmans—besides trying his hand at it in Le Drageoir aux épices—extolled this form of expression, which, condensing thought, feeling and imagery in a small compass, can produce the impressions of a long poem or even of a tale. Rimbaud went farther on; with their rich workmanship, their originality and intensity of emotion, some of the Illuminations can easily bear comparison with the best compositions of Baudelaire and Mallarmé.


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